Today these islands are home to native fishermen and, increasingly, wealthy Nicaraguans and foreigners wanting to live the good life on their own private island. The area is also rich in bird life and I wanted to take a bird tour but all the tours require a minimum of 2 people. Tourism is limited enough here that, unlike Thailand and Costa Rica, the tour operators don't have customers everyday so if you're a single traveler it's kind of potluck as to what tours you can sign onto. I could, of course, pay for 2 and go by myself but I'm too cheap. And anyway, it's more interesting to meet others on these tours. On my third attempt to hook up with a bird tour they still didn't have any lined up but did have a couple going kayaking the next day so I decided to go ahead and join them. The following morning it was quite windy and the surf on the lake was pretty high. Hmmm. Could be interesting. We were given life jackets and a dry bag for our cameras and headed to our kayaks. Who wants to go first? The company owner looked at me and said "La campion!" so it was decided. Don't know what gave him that idea as I hadn't told them I'd ever done any kayaking...and I've only launched into surf once. But off I went with instructions to keep my paddle out of the water as they pushed me into the surf. Okey dokey. Waiting for a lull in the bigger waves, I was pushed into the lake. Of course the lull only lasted a moment and within 5 seconds a huge wave crashed over me and drenched me with filthy, gritty lake water. Yum! I paddled hard to get out of the crashing surf to a place where I could wait for the others who experienced similar launches. We were all sitting in 3" of water in our skirtless fiberglass kayaks. Oh well. We followed guide Mario along the shore up and down in the swells until we got to the inland waters in the islands where the water was essentially flat.
Mario led us through the islands pointing out some of the flora and telling us about the formation of the islands.
We passed islands with modest little native homes as well as islands with mansions. Most islands are just big enough for the house that sits on it.
Mario pointed out an island that the owners bought a year ago for $5000 and were now selling for $60,000. These kinds of stories just irritate the hell out of me. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Americas (after Haiti) and has an unemployment rate of 60%. For foreigners to try to make these kinds of profits in that environment just seems immoral to me. And look where the speculative real estate market has gotten the US. Ok, I'll stop preaching and get on with the story...
Along the way we passed fishermen casting nets...standing precariously in their boats.
I also saw plenty of birds: little blue heron, great egret, snowy egret, kiskadee, osprey and jacana. After paddling for a couple of hours, we stopped at a restaurant and had something to drink. It was good to stretch my legs and gave the other couple (from Seattle) and me a chance to talk a bit.
As you cansee, the water level in the lake is particularly high this year and I've been told that the beaches on Ometepe, a big island in the lake, are essentially gone because they are under water. The other attraction listed in all the tour brochures is Monkey Island. This is a tiny little island which houses a troop of monkeys. I imagine they were put here by people and are regularly fed because there isn't enough there to naturally support them. The motorized launches lure them with food to entertain the tourists.
Fortunately, Mario didn't do that and asked us not to get too close. But we did see a lancha practically dock to the island and feed them. And one of the monkey's jumped onto the boat to the squealing delight of the tourists. We moved on quietly. Our next stop was a small fort built by the Spanish to repel pirates on the lake.
The fort lies on one of the outer isletas and the surf here was quite impressive crashing on the rocks of the island as forcefully as any ocean surf.
From this stop we paddled back towards the kayak company along the shore of the lake. The take out was a wet as the put in and after 2 washings I still haven't gotten all the lake grit out of my clothes...a small price to pay for a day of paddling.
When Volcan Mombacho erupted 20,000 years ago, the top of the mountain blew off into Lake Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua) and the debris formed an archipelago of 365 islands.